Ukrainian gallerist flees with artwork to showcase at San Pedro Gallery – Daily Breeze
All Nadiya Nikolaeva had to do to find a clear – and ominous – sign of the coming war was to look to the sky.
But the sign was not what she could see. Rather, it was what she couldn’t see: planes.
About a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Nikolaeva said, many airlines stopped flying over her hometown of kyiv.
“It was clear,” she said this week, “that danger was coming.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
That evening, Nikolaeva received a call from friends who heard explosions. Nikolaeva was sleeping, so she didn’t hear anything, she said. But still, she decided to put her car away and leave her homeland.
Nikolaeva, a gallerist, art critic and professor of art history, fled kyiv with her 19-year-old daughter Marfa, her child’s two friends and another mother. With kyiv airport closed, the mother and daughter drove to Budapest – the other three remained in Ukraine – before heading to the United States.
Among Nikolaeva’s possessions were five paintings – which she will display in a new exhibit that will premiere Saturday, April 16 at Collage: A Place for Art and Culture, an arts venue in San Pedro. The exhibition, which will run until April 27, will also feature ancient women’s dresses and dresses, as well as textile art, ancient Ukrainian Easter eggs and other handicrafts.
“My goal is to show the beautiful Ukrainian culture,” Nikolaeva said, “so that people understand how it’s different from Russian culture, different language, different costumes, different mentality.”
Since Nikolaeva fled Ukraine, the world has watched in horror as the violence and bloodshed the war unleashed on the Eastern European country – while sometimes marveling at the courage of the Ukrainian soldiers who succeeded in slowing the Russian advances. Earlier this week, for example, Ukrainian missiles destroyed the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a US official said. And Russia has withdrawn from kyiv, Nikolaeva’s home and the country’s capital, despite Ukrainian officials warning residents not to return home yet.
Yet the war also took its toll: President Volodymyr Zelenskiy estimated Ukraine’s military casualties at 2,500-3,000 dead and around 10,000 wounded, according to excerpts from an interview with ‘State of the Union’. from CNN, which is set to air on Sunday.
And since February 24, about 4.8 million refugees have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The journey of these refugees has been strewn with pitfalls.
When Nikolaeva and her daughter fled kyiv for Budapest, the drive was expected to take eight hours, she said. Instead, it took 24 – just to reach the Hungarian border.
The couple spent three days in western Ukraine before they could cross the Hungarian border, Nikolaeva said. Once in Budapest, they took a flight to Amsterdam and another flight to Los Angeles.
But mother and daughter had at least one thing going for them:
Nikolaeva’s twin sister and brother-in-law, Barbara and Dmitry Reznikov, live in San Pedro.
They picked up Nikolaeva and the rest of the group from Los Angeles International Airport.
Nikolaeva and her daughter have been living in the Reznikovs’ house in San Pedro ever since.
Barbara Reznikov also helped connect Nikolaeva to the gallery where her art will be exhibited.
Reznikov introduced her to a friend named George Woytovich, a Collage partner and owner of the 1920s building in which the art venue is located.
Nikolaeva and Woytovich actually met two months before the war in Ukraine, when the former was visiting her sister. Woytovich showed the sisters around Collage. While chatting, Woytovich revealed that his parents are from Ukraine.
After Nikolaeva returned to San Pedro, as a refugee, she had the idea to exhibit her art – as a way to showcase Ukrainian culture.
This concept corresponded to one of the key missions of Collage.
Collage, which opened in 2020 as a nonprofit arts organization, hosted an event before closing amid the pandemic. The venue reopened in July and has hosted more than 50 events — from live music to magic shows — showcasing different cultures, said Richard Foss, executive director of Collage at Collage.
Showcasing Ukrainian art is especially important right now, Foss said, because it’s a way to dispel Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion that there is no distinct Ukrainian culture.
“Even here in Los Angeles, where the Ukrainian community is quite small,” he said, “community members cherish their heritage and express it in art, music, dance and other media”.
Nikolaeva’s family is an example of the importance of art in Ukrainian culture.
Her family, she says, have been collecting Ukrainian art for many years.
Her mother, Tamara Nikolaeva, is a well-known specialist in Ukrainian costumes. Several old costumes and a book written by the matriarch will indeed be exhibited during the San Pedro exhibition.
The exhibit will also feature artwork and other items belonging to Reznikov and his son, Zachary, who have lived in the United States for years.
The gallery will also host workshops on Ukrainian Easter eggs, a bandura concert on Wednesday April 20 and live music on the last day of the exhibition, April 27.
The bandura concert is a particular highlight, Foss said. The bandura is an 18th century stringed instrument similar to a lute.
There is only one bandura player in Southern California, Foss said. This is Luke Lashkuk Miller — who will perform during the concert.
The bandura is symbolic and its sound reminds Ukrainians of memories of home, Foss said. In 1932, the leader of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin – in an attempt to quash what he saw as an anti-Soviet culture – allegedly executed traveling bandurists who were attending a congress in Kharkiv, in the northeast of Ukraine.
“The instrument survived because the students were trained in secret,” Foss said, “and people from overseas communities learned to play those they had brought here.”
As for Nikolaeva, the artist expressed optimism about the future of Ukraine.
But she is also afraid. Fearing, she said, that Putin would move next to other neighboring countries, such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
“He will never stop,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
If you are going to
Or: Collage: A Place of Art and Culture, 731 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro
When: April 16-27
Cost: Ticket prices vary. A portion of all admissions will go to UNICEF’s Ukrainian Children’s Fund.